Having the Perfect House Date: The Expat Move and Apartment Hunt

What the very first thing every expat must handle when they move abroad?

Figuring out where the hell to live.

flat building battesea eileen cotter wright

I vividly remember the first six weeks my husband and I lived in London. We found an Airbnb to crash at in Battersea that was fine, but the size of a closet. The apartment might as well have been on the moon, because it took forever to acclimate where I was. Who knew what a Battersea was, and why was the walk to Clapham so far? Where’s Big Ben, and why does everyone say we have to move to North London or not bother being here at all?

As we only had a couple weeks to get out act together, we hired an estate agent pretty quickly. In London it seems like most rentals are done this way where an agent shows us a few listings and we make some decisions, paying out a commission.

Someday My Prince Will Come

I saw five properties in two days. The first few were terrifying, like old boyfriends with tattoos and bad attitudes. One of the flats (apartments) had zero natural sunlight and felt like living in a dungeon, while the other was in a basement with a creaky door – even worse. Another had a bit more space and light, but was inside a huge apartment block. Nice and all, but a bit boring. Sorry nice guys.

small battersea terrace eileen cotter wright

Then, the final two. The one right before the one – you know, the one you THINK is the one. It was a three-story walk-up and it was sleek. Beautiful common spaces, large two bedrooms and marbled kitchen. So handsome, smooth talker, successful. It was on the main street in Clapham, near all the expensive pubs and direct subway line right into central London. I was so ready to make the leap into city living.

The agent said soooooo. So. You like it? The flat is about 300 pounds a month more than your budget.

We just couldn’t do it. So I begrudgingly headed to the final property, heartbroken and assuming I’d never find the perfect home in London. But the agent and I pulled up to a small brick building on a tree-lined street near the common. It had massive hallways and a tiny front door. The layout was bizarre, but the living area had high ceilings and space for storage. Two bedrooms gave us room to sleep and have guests with built-in wardrobes.

kitchen clapham eileen cotter wright

The kitchen was pretty minimal and impossibly small, but the bathroom is a good size. And the kicker? A giant cemented terrace as big as the whole flat all to our own that I felt immediately connected to. I envisioned summer BBQs, cocktail parties and reading for hours in the sun among planted tulips. I loved it instantly and saw a future together. We said yes!

apartment terrace london eileen cotter wright

A Couple of Cons, But a Good House Match

Although I really do love our outdoor space, I realize we spend far less time at home than we did when living in the states. That’s due to many factors, but mostly because of living in a big city, traveling more frequently and basically just having lots more to do (without a car!) I think living in the tiny apartment/flat at first made me a little nuts so I thought a terrace would be top priority. It’s not as much anymore, but we’ve made the space really cosy and all our own here in London.

artesan well battersea eileen cotter wright

Maybe this will change now that the sun is shining again and I’m determined this season to really utilize our space outside. In the end, I have a wonderful relationship with our living space; I am so grateful and happy for it’s perfect location, decent amenities and quirky personality to boot.

How Can You Have the Perfect House Date?

Are you about to hunt down your new place abroad, or maybe just down the street? Here’s a few tips.

Know the neighborhood

It’s basic, but pull out a map. A BIG one. And not on your phone, but the old fashioned kind. Circle or mark down which areas look like you want to check out in regards to location. Then dig a bit deeper online and make some notes as to where seems most viable. If possible, visit before or hit the road as soon as you land to start understand the vibes of each neighborhood. We were lucky enough to spend several weeks in Clapham before we moved and knew that was the place we wanted to be.

Request a seasoned estate agent

Many estate agents tend to be fresh out of school and eager to make a sweet commission. I can’t knock them for that, but I certainly wasn’t made to feel like a top priority. In retrospect I wish we shopped around for a better one a little, who knew the area better and wasn’t pressuring us an newcombers into something out of our price range.

Know what you want, fast

We had two seconds to decide, because we wanted everything on our list for a good price. Have in mind some things you won’t budge on and others you can be flexible about. That can be anything from kitchen size and bathtub to amount of bedrooms and parking spaces. If you also want to be in a great city location and want to beat out the competition, be prepared to put in an offer that day.

Have you moved recently as an expat? How did it go? Here’s a few more great tips from the leading
family law solicitors in London about moving to this expat-friendly city!

LawHouse PerfectHouseDate

Author: EileenCotterWright

Eileen Cotter Wright is a Boston, MA expat living in London, UK. She is a freelance writer and owner of group travel site PureWander.com. Despite losing her passport the first day she left her home country, she's continued to roam the earth with gusto for about a decade. You can keep up with her hot mess adventures on Twitter @Crooked_Flight.

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1 Comment

  1. Eileen,

    I loved and related to your apartment hunt. Went through something similar when my husband and I moved to Rome. We also chose a small, quirky layout but loved every minute it of it because of the location, location, location. Walkability truly makes a place home for us. And now, repatriated, my 1457 square ft house seems overwhelming. I’m ready to downsize again!

    Thanks for sharing your story!
    Martha

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